Children who don't look at phone screens make better friends

Posted by
Sarah Biddlecombe
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These days, there are all kinds of screens to keep kids occupied in their waking hours, from iPhones to iPads and laptops, TVs and Kindles.

The screens are so alluring that eight to fifteen years old now spend a massive third of their time engrossed in new media, with the other two thirds split between sleeping and schooltime, while traditional “non-screen” playtime has fallen by 20%.

And now a new study seems to suggest that if children could spend more time away from their screens, they would actually make better friends.

The study, reported earlier this month in the new book Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter, showed that kids who spent a week without any screen time dramatically improved their ability to read facial expressions and better understand how others were feeling.

The study, extracted on The Cut, saw 51 South Californian children leave their screens behind and visit an outdoors camp for a week. The children were aged 11-12 and from a mix of different backgrounds, and there was an equal number of girls and boys.

When the children arrived at the camp, they performed the Diagnostic Analysis of Nonverbal Behavior (DANVA2) test, in which they had to guess how a person was feeling based on either their facial expression or how their voice sounded as they read aloud a sentence. On average, they made 14 errors out of 48 questions.

However, by the end of camp, when the children had spent a week hiking, cooking and interacting with each other, they retook the test – and their error rate had fallen by a third.

A group of “control” children, who took the test at the same time but didn’t go on the camp, also saw a drop in their error rate, but only by 20%.

This, Alter concludes, shows that a week without the interruption of screens could do wonders for children’s ability to interact with others and make friends.

“Kids do better at a task that drives the quality of their social interactions when they spend more time with other kids in a natural environment than they do when spending a third of their lives glued to glowing screens,” he wrote on The Cut.

And if it works so well for kids, perhaps it can do the same for us adults? Why not put down your phone and find out...